The night angel trilogy, p.96
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.96

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Thanks for clarifying.”

  Ah, so she was as smart as they said. He’d wondered when he’d heard she was requesting books. Better not to let women read. “You’re welcome. Now, where was I?”

  She answered, but he didn’t hear her. Something had just happened to Tenser’s ferali. He could feel it through the webs of magic he’d anchored throughout the castle. Whatever had just done that, it was more powerful than he’d expected.

  “I can tell you’re not happy here, so I’m sending you to Khaliras,” he said, walking to the door. “If you send any messages or attempt escape, I’ll round up all your friends and a hundred innocents and kill them.” He strode across the room and kissed her fiercely. Her lips were cold and utterly unresponsive.

  “Goodbye, my princess,” he said.

  He paused outside the door until he heard her burst into tears, the rustle of covers as she threw herself on the bed, and what he thought was Logan’s name. He’d have to give orders about that. If Jenine found out Logan was alive, she’d never bend to Garoth’s will. That tug on the web pulled him, but still he paused. Usually, a woman’s weeping meant nothing to him, but today…. He turned the feeling over like a strangely colored stone. Was this guilt? Remorse? Why did he have the insane desire to apologize?

  Curious. He’d have to think about this later. When Jenine was at a safe distance.

  He ordered six huge highlanders from the Godking’s Guard to take her to Khalidor immediately, and then went down the stairs.

  64

  Feir searched the Cenarian army in the dusk, looking for Solon or Dorian. Neither man could be found. When he asked why the garrison at Screaming Winds wasn’t here, a count named Rimbold Drake told him of the massacre and shared a worry: If Khali had slaughtered veterans, what would happen if they brought her here?

  Desperate, Feir rode on. He was carrying the only possible salvation for the entire ignorant army. To make matters worse, he was no seer, at least not in any useful sense. He could see weaves of magic that were close as if through a Ladeshian enlarging glass, but if you put a man even as Talented as Solon fifty paces away, Feir couldn’t see so much as a flicker.

  After frenzied inquiries, he’d found two mages: a husband and wife, neither very Talented, but both healers. They said they’d seen no great Talents in the entire army. But then Tevor Nile had gazed around hopelessly—and stopped.

  “Drissa,” he said.

  She came and took his hand. Both of them fixed their attention on a foothill a few hundred paces from the army.

  “Lend us your power and we’ll lend you our sight,” Drissa told Feir. He’d done it, feeling queasy to surrender himself while carrying Curoch, and then the foothill was ablaze in light.

  The men were too far away for Feir to recognize faces, and they’d taken care not to skyline themselves, but each man’s Talent blazed, as individual as the patterns of his irises. Feir knew those men, had rubbed shoulders and locked horns with them. They were six of Sho’cendi’s most powerful magi. Feir knew what they’d come for.

  No doubt the bastards actually believed Curoch belonged to them. But they could wield the sword; he couldn’t. If he took Curoch to them and swore to surrender it conditionally, any one of those men could incinerate the entire Khalidoran army. Feir didn’t have Solon’s silver tongue, but with Curoch in hand, his leaden tongue might do just fine.

  So he rode pell-mell for the brothers on a horse he borrowed from the Niles, praying that he could get to them before the armies closed ranks. If he reached them in time, Cenaria might win without losing a man.

  The path took him into a ravine out of the sight of the magi, and there he’d promptly run into Khalidoran outriders. His horse had been killed by an archer, and then the lancers had come for him, disdaining arrows for the sport of killing a man on foot.

  Now three of them were dead, and Feir had bigger problems. Beyond the Khalidorans, unbelievably, were sa’ceurai.

  So as he fought the last horseman, he tried to move into the magi’s line of sight. Gods! They were barely a hundred paces away. If they saw Feir, not even a thousand sa’ceurai would be able to stand between those six magi and Curoch.

  The sa’ceurai wouldn’t let Feir break their ranks. They were too disciplined. What they would do was judge him by how he fought, and sa’ceurai had very particular notions about how one should fight.

  The Way of the Sword had peculiar notions about fighting. It entailed assuming every time you went into battle that you would die, and disdaining death so long as you died honorably. The ultimate way to strike an enemy was strike him in the fraction of a second before he landed a killing blow.

  To Feir’s way of thinking, that was fine and practical when the margins were slim, as they were between the best fighters. If you cared too much about getting hurt, you’d never brave the damage you’d need to take to kill the best. That would make you flinch. If you flinched, you’d die and—worse, to the Ceuran mind—you’d lose.

  Killing three horsemen was no mean feat. A veteran horseman was worth ten footmen. But a mage on foot wasn’t just a footman, and Feir had had no compunction about using magic to help slay the first three. He knew he could kill the last Khalidoran bearing down on him, but the how of it eluded him. What impression did he want to leave with these sword lords? To a Ceuran, combat was communication. A man might deceive with his words, but his body spoke true.

  Feir sheathed Curoch—that was another problem he’d think about later—and ran toward the horseman on the lance side. In battle, the man would be content to let his mountain pony run Feir down, but now, Feir was sure the man would try to kill personally. And… there!

  The man leaned out to the side and leveled his ten-foot ash pole. Feir leapt into the air. It was no great leap, but the Khalidoran was riding a twelve-hand mountain pony rather than some hulking eighteen-hand Alitaeran destrier. Feir’s flying sidekick took him over the lance and his foot caught the Khalidoran’s face.

  Feir realized two things at the point of impact: First, the Ceuran villagers who’d devised a kick to unseat horsemen probably didn’t try it when the horse was galloping. Second, something popped, and it wasn’t the Khalidoran’s neck.

  He crashed to the ground. When he stood, his ankle screamed and black spots swam in front of his eyes. But there was no revealing his weakness, not in front of sa’ceurai. Even as he stood, they closed the circle. One of them checked the Khalidoran, with a knife drawn to dispatch him, but he was already dead.

  Feir stood in haughty silence, meat-slab arms folded, but his heart was cold. There was one more bend of solid rock between him and the magi on the hill. If he could move ten paces and draw in his Talent, they would see him despite the trees. But he couldn’t move ten paces. He couldn’t move five.

  Outside the circle of drawn swords and nocked arrows, a man was checking each of the corpses. Everywhere through his hair were the bound forelocks of his dead opponents. Most were bound at both ends—sa’ceurai he’d killed—but others were bound only to his hair—foreigners. The circle of iron parted and Lantano Garuwashi looked up at Feir.

  “You stand as tall and fight as well as a nephilim, yet you didn’t even bloody your sword with these dogs. Who are you, giant?” Lantano Garuwashi asked.

  A nephilim? Feir wracked his brain for everything he knew about Ceura. Thank the gods, it was a fair amount. Most sword masters learned a lot about Ceura, since not a few of their trainers were exiled Ceurans who had served on the wrong side of one or another of their incessant wars. But a nephilim? The Way of the Sword. The first men crafted from—iron? The soul of a man is his sword….

  I can’t fight! I’m lame! Lantano Garuwashi saw me fight and now he’ll want to prove he’s bigger than this “giant.”

  That was it! “These were the heroes and the great men of old.” The nephilim were the children born of mortal women to the sons of the gods. Or was it the God? Ah, hell, he couldn’t remember if Ceurans were polytheists. Well, he’d just have t
o be religiously obscure.

  “Be not afraid,” Feir said.

  He saw consternation ripple across those iron faces. Who told Lantano Garuwashi not to be afraid? Feir figured that if he was going to bluff, he might as well play it to the hilt.

  Speaking of hilts… now might be the time for Curoch to do its trick. Part of Curoch’s latent magic was that it would become any shape of sword its owner wished. Parts of it never changed, but enough of it could to help Feir take on his suddenly conceived role of Divine Messenger. He’d read descriptions of a Ceuran sword that ought to do nicely, so he willed Curoch to take the right shape—is that all I have to do?

  He drew the sword slowly, and kept his eyes on Lantano Garuwashi’s until the man looked down. Around the circle, eyes were widening, men were gasping, jaws were dropping—among these, Lantano Garuwashi’s elite!

  Feir followed their eyes. Curoch had not only understood the type of sword Feir wanted it to emulate, it had known the very sword itself. Feir had imagined that a sword “with the fires of heaven along the blade” meant either the patterns of exquisite steel or an engraving of fire. Another translation was “with the fire of heaven in the blade.” Curoch had taken the latter approach.

  Twin dragons, Feir didn’t have to look to know that they would be twins, each subtly different, were engraved on either side of the blade, near the hilt. Each was breathing fire toward the tip of the blade. But it wasn’t an etching of fire. It was fire, inside the sword. Where the fire burned, and for several inches past it, the sword blade became as transparent as glass. It was as if Feir were holding a bar of flame. The sword stayed a constant length, but fires within grew and shrank depending on—Feir didn’t know what it depended on, but right now the dragons blazed out fire all the way to the tip of the sword, three and a half feet from the hilt, and then the fire died down.

  Feir had been looking to impress, but the looks on the sa’ceurais’ faces were closer to worship. He was barely able to wipe the amazement off his own face before eyes began turning back to him.

  Lantano Garuwashi looked as if he’d just been stabbed with fear for the first time in his life. Then it was gone, and out of all the men, only he looked angry. “Why does a nephilim bear Ceur’caelestos?” The Blade of Heaven. Feir had a sudden suspicion that Curoch had become that particular blade too easily. It was like it had known what it should look like. What if it isn’t pretending to be Ceur’caelestos, what if it is it?

  I didn’t make an impressive blade. I made the most holy artifact these people know. How do I go limping away now? It didn’t matter. It was too late to stop.

  “I am a mere servant. I bear a message for you, Lantano Garuwashi, should you be sa’ceurai enough to accept it.” Feir laced his voice with magic, altered it, added resonance and depth befitting the voice of heaven. “This path lies before you. Fight Khalidor and become a great king.” Not the greatest message for a god, but short enough that Feir’s lack of eloquence might not shine through. With the added tones and volume, he thought it respectably awe-inspiring.

  But Garuwashi didn’t look awed. He drew his sword slowly. It hung from his grip, limp and dull. Feir saw his mistake too late. Why had he held out that particular prize? He’d told Garuwashi he would be a king, but to a son of a commoner, it was an impossibility. Garuwashi’s sword was plain iron, a battered, sad thing he held with fierce pride because it was such a deep shame to him.

  An iron sword would never rule. There was no trading swords. A sa’ceurai’s soul was his sword. To Ceurans, that wasn’t an abstraction. It was fact.

  That sharp, sad length of iron gave stark testament of Feir’s lie. Garuwashi’s grip tightened on his soul and the tip of the blade lifted in defiance. Around the circle, the sa’ceurai still held their weapons, but the bows were no longer drawn, and the swords had been forgotten. The sa’ceurai looked as if this moment were being etched forever into their minds. Their War Master, the greatest sa’ceurai of all time, facing a nephilim bearing a sword out of legends—and their Lantano Garuwashi showed not a shred of fear.

  “If I am sa’ceurai enough?” Lantano Garuwashi asked. “I will die before I accept mockery, even the mockery of the gods. I am sa’ceurai enough to die by the sword of heaven or I will be sa’ceurai enough to kill the gods’ messenger.”

  Then he attacked with the speed that had made Lantano Garuwashi legend.

  Feir couldn’t fight. Fighting this man with only one good leg was suicide. Feir blocked Garuwashi’s first attack and then reached out with magic and yanked the man toward him.

  The Ceuran flew into him and the men pressed against each other, swords crossed, faces inches apart. Curoch—or Ceur’caelestos, whichever it was—flared to life. The dragons breathed fire out to the tip of the blade.

  Feir’s only thought was that his arms had to be stronger than Garuwashi’s. If the man stood at a distance, he’d murder Feir, but in close to Feir’s massive arms, Feir had a chance. But before either of the men could do anything, light began to bloom in a second bar between the two men. It must have taken only a second, but for that second, it seemed both men’s martial training abandoned them. They each stood merely straining to throw the other off-balance, each trying to ignore what each wanted so desperately to look at. Feir hadn’t done anything—maybe Curoch was reacting to the magic he had used to pull Garuwashi to him. Garuwashi’s sword went red and then white. It burned brighter than Curoch and then, as the men pushed against each other, Garuwashi’s sword exploded.

  As explosions go, it was gentle but implacable. No burning fragments of sword tore through Feir’s flesh, but there was no stopping the force, either. He was flipped head over heels backward and landed face down, a good fifteen feet away. He tried to stand, but the pain in his ankle stabbed through him so fiercely that he knew he would black out if he did. He stayed on his knees. He stared up the hill and took in as much power as he could hold.

  Look, damn you, Lucius! Look! He was still hidden by trees, but if one of the seers just looked they would see him.

  Thirty feet away, Lantano Garuwashi rose to his feet. Impossibly, he was holding his sword—no, not his sword. His sword had vanished, disappeared. There weren’t even smoldering fragments of it left. With a look of absolute wonder in his eyes, he held Ceur’caelestos and it looked perfect, as if Lantano Garuwashi had been born for that sword and the sword made a thousand years ago with Lantano Garuwashi in mind.

  If the sa’ceurai had been astonished before, now they were stricken dumb. They dropped to their knees even as Feir was. One of them said, “The gods have given Lantano Garuwashi a new sword.” He meant that the gods had given Lantano Garuwashi a new soul, a legend’s soul, a king’s soul. In every eye, Feir saw that the men approved. They had known it. They had served Lantano Garuwashi before he had become The Lantano Garuwashi, King Lantano, before he had defied and humbled a nephilim.

  Now Feir was on his knees, unable to stand. Lantano Garuwashi’s eyes were aflame with destiny as he looked down on the giant.

  “Indeed, it is as the gods foresaw. Ceur’caelestos is yours,” Feir said. What else could he say?

  Lantano Garuwashi touched the blade to Feir’s chin. “Nephilim, messenger and servant of the gods, you have the face of an Alitaeran, but you fight and speak as only sa’ceurai can. I would have you serve me.” His eyes said, or you can die.

  Feir needed no nephilim from the gods to tell him his destiny. He glanced up the hill, and no help came. He wasn’t surprised; he already was what he would forever be: The Small Man Who Served Great Men. He would forever be The Man Who Lost Curoch. He lowered his head, defeated.

  “I… I will serve.”

  65

  Four hundred paces away, Agon heard the explosion and whipped his head around, trying to locate its source. The Khalidoran army was camped to the west, but none of those distant soldiers reacted as if the explosion had come from there. He looked at his captain.

  “I’ll send a runner to Lord Graesin,” the captain
said. The queen had placed her little brother Luc in charge of the scouts, seeming to think that she had to give the young cretin some responsibility, and thinking that it was one he couldn’t possibility screw up. The seventeen-year-old had decided that all scouts would report only to him. Only after the scouts reported to him, sometimes waiting for an hour or more in line behind other scouts, were they able to go to the lords who needed to know.

  Combined with everything else, it made for a lot of swearing from Agon’s officers. None of them voiced their fears. There was no need. Every veteran knew that they were going into battle with a raw army. Calling it an army was, in fact, a stretch. The units hadn’t trained together enough to act coherently. Different lords had different signals, and in the crush and cacophony of battle, voices frequently couldn’t be distinguished. One officer wouldn’t be able to give a hand signal to the officer down the line to relay the general’s orders or even to react to a new situation. That, with the queen’s positioning of units according to politics, made every veteran grit his teeth.

  Agon was lucky to get even the thousand men he had. He only had them because Duke Logan Gyre had spent all his political capital asking it—and the men who had previously served under Agon threatened mutiny if he didn’t lead them.

  So Agon had a tenth of the Cenarian army. The queen had given him the center of the line, though she pretended that that honor had gone to the lord stationed next to Agon.

  “Forget it,” he said. “The battle will be over before we hear back from a scout. How are the men?”

  “Ready, Lord Gen—my lord,” the captain said.

  Agon looked at the lightening sky. It was going to be the kind of day a man should spend beside a fire with ootai—or brandy. Dark clouds obscured the rising sun, extending the darkness into the day and delaying the inevitable battle. The flat field, which was really a dozen farms together, was bare. The wheat harvest had been taken in and the sheep moved to winter pastures. Low stone sheep fences crisscrossed the battlefield.

 
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